The decade's most triggering comedy
LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — A jury of six women and one man on Friday found ex-Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler guilty of using his position to retaliate against a teacher for cooperating with a grand jury investigating how the district handled sexual assault.
After a four-day trial plus a day of deliberations, the jury found that Ziegler wrongfully fired a teacher who had disclosed to Virginia investigators about mishandling of sexual assault in her classroom. Ziegler was convicted of using his official position to retaliate against someone for exercising their rights, and acquitted of punishing someone for testifying to a jury, both misdemeanors.
Ziegler could face up to 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine, or both. Sentencing in the trial will occur on January 4, 2024, Judge Douglas Fleming Jr. said. Ziegler’s victim, former special education teacher Erin Brooks, clasped her hands in front of her mouth in emotion after the verdict was read.
Prosecutors appointed by Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican, said that after they began investigating the school district’s coverup of a bathroom rape, they spoke with Brooks, who disclosed an unrelated instance of mishandling of sexual assault by school administrators. Brooks was then fired by Ziegler for cooperating with the special grand jury.
Out of all of LCPS’ 15,000 teachers, Brooks was singled out for firing by Ziegler at a school board meeting in June 2022, prosecutors said. Ziegler told board members he fired Brooks for giving private information to a conservative activist, and for giving private information to the grand jury, school board member John Beatty testified.
Ziegler’s alleged claim that Brooks had given information to a conservative activist turned out to be false, and it would be illegal to punish her for telling the truth to a jury she’d been subpoenaed by, prosecutors argued.
At trial, school board member Brenda Sheridan, a Democrat who was chair during the gender-fluid rape coverup, was asked under oath about Ziegler’s closed-door statements that amounted to a confession. She did not deny Beatty’s version, but instead refused to answer, saying that because division attorney Robert Falconi was in the room during the discussion, she believed she could invoke attorney-client privilege.
Ziegler, who was wearing earrings and nail polish, did not testify at trial.
Falconi convinced the board to drop their questions about Brooks that June night by falsely saying she could simply appeal.
LCPS, often through its then-attorney Falconi, repeatedly attacked, tried to shut down, and obfuscated to the special grand jury, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin promised to convene following the Daily Wire’s October 2021 expose of a “genderfluid” rape coverup.
The grand jury previously said it would have indicted Falconi for witness tampering because of his central role in the rape coverup, but were hamstrung by the fact that Virginia doesn’t have a witness tampering law.
Though Ziegler’s defense attorney Erin Harrigan said in opening arguments that she would show that Ziegler fired Brooks for invading the privacy of her student assailant, she failed to produce evidence that private information was shared or that a policy was violated. None of the witnesses could point to a policy that Brooks violated.
Prosecutors laid out a devastating timeline of retaliation against Brooks, who was trying to get administrators to do something about the fact that a student with intellectual disabilities was grabbing the genitals of her and her teaching assistant Laurie Vandermeulen dozens of times a day, while making crude motions with his tongue. Administrators offered the educators a piece of cardboard called “no-no hands,” and told them to hold it in front of their groins. They also offered to buy them dog groomer aprons to wear to “slow down penetration,” they said.
At a loss for what to do, Vandermeulen asked a frequent speaker at school board meetings, Ian Prior, to read a letter to the school board expressing that there were two teachers who were being sexually assaulted in class and needed help.
Vandermeulen also sent a record of the assaults she was facing to her personal gmail after fearing a coverup was afoot, which Ziegler’s attorney initially tried to portray as “smuggling” private information, but ultimately failed to show that Vandermeulen violated any policy.
On March 22, 2022, principal Diane Mackey gave Brooks a glowing evaluation. That night, Prior made the speech, which contained no identifying information about the student, the teachers, or even the name of the school. Prior didn’t know any details about the student and Vandermeulen asked him not to use any names. He only said that teachers had filed a Title IX complaint on a certain date that he hoped the school board would look into.
Mackey saw the school board speech and the student was moved out of Brooks’ classroom the next day, but Brooks became the target of ruthless animus from school administrators.
Soon after, Brooks asked Mackey for a day off to testify to the grand jury, and Mackey demanded to see the subpoena. Ziegler asked HR whether Brooks was a probationary employee, meaning she would be easy to fire. Mackey spoke to Ziegler about Brooks, then falsely testified to the grand jury that she had not, she acknowledged this week, chalking it up to a memory error. Mackey also spoke about Brooks to Falconi, the attorney who prosecutors said was Ziegler’s “right-hand man.”
In May, Mackey wrote a negative evaluation and letter to Ziegler recommending that she be fired. Ziegler used the letter the same day to have her fired, suggesting he was waiting on it.
Prosecutors said the year-end evaluation of Brooks showed that school officials had “fabricated” the allegations retroactively to justify Ziegler’s desire to fire her, given that she had a stellar record and had been named Special Ed Teacher of the Year the prior year.
The evaluation focused squarely on the student who was the subject of the trial, saying she had failed to manage his behavior and failed to implement “plans” like the cardboard. It, and Ziegler’s attorney, suggested that Brooks had caused the student to sexually assault her by making him frustrated by refusing to give him an iPad.
The year-end evaluation posed a major timeline problem for the defense: The student never set foot in Brooks’ classroom in between her glowing March evaluation and negative May one. Yet the May one was full of allegations involving her handling of the student that were absent from, or outright contradicted by, the earlier evaluation.
“She made it up after the fact. Isn’t it brazen how she did this?” prosecutor Brandon Wrobleski asked. “‘We can’t have more sexual assaults coming out. Anyone who brings sexual assaults to public attention is gone.’ That’s what happened here,” he said. “Look a how well the Family works together when a dissident speaks out. She goes from Teacher of the Year to fired,” he said.
Ziegler’s attorney Harrigan explained the discrepancy in closing arguments by saying that in between the two evaluations, Mackey had seen that the student supposedly did not assault his new teacher, leading to a conclusion that Brooks and Vendermeulen must have been to blame for their own assaults.
Prosecutor Theo Stamos said the defense had offered no “motive” why Brooks and Vandermeulen would voluntarily cause themselves to be sexually assaulted or deprive him of an iPad communication device–Brooks was actually such a proponent of the communication aid for disabled students that she led a training on it.
The defense’s evidence that she had caused the assaults by failing to implement administrators’ “plans” or not provided him an iPad was based on fleeting observations from a handful of administrators who had stopped in Brooks’ class for a few minutes, and whose testimony at trial suggested that the defense had overstated or misrepresented their observations.
Harrigan emphasized in closing arguments that the law about an employer punishing someone for jury testimony talks about punishing them for being absent. Ziegler was found not guilty of that charge, perhaps because jurors believed he was retaliating against Brooks for what she said to the grand jury, not for taking a day off work to do it.
A month after his January 4 sentencing, Ziegler will face a separate trial on a final misdemeanor charge that was at the core of The Daily Wire’s 2021 story: His false statement at a school board meeting that there had been no sexual assaults in LCPS restrooms–part of a screed denigrating parents who were concerned about a transgender policy being discussed–when in fact he knew that a skirt-wearing boy had anally raped a ninth grader in the girls bathroom just weeks prior.
Harrigan said she plans to file a “somewhat legally complex” “motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.”